What The New York Times Gets Wrong About Nerds

A recent New York Times editorial declared “We’re All Nerds Now.” As evidence, the editorial cited the ubiquity of smartphones and tablets, and the popularity of comic-book-inspired movies and the runaway success of “Game Of Thrones.”

But just because you own a smartphone doesn’t make you a nerd. People have always been attracted to new technology. No one would call you a nerd in the 1950s just because you bought a radar range (a.k.a microwave oven). And nobody would call you a nerd in the 1980s if you bought a car phone (you’d more likely be called a yuppie douche bag).

As I wrote in a blog for my day job, owning or using technology doesn’t make you a nerd. What really makes you a nerd is wanting to understand and explore the limits of a system, and find out how to go beyond those limits. Nerds just don’t own or use things: They put in significant effort to understand how something works, and how they can control it, make it do things it otherwise wouldn’t, or how to make it better.

And nerdism doesn’t just apply to technology. The world is full of things to explore, understand, and manipulate in new ways. You can be a nerd about politics, cooking, culture, whatever. But if you want to call yourself a nerd, you have to be willing to put in the work.

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